cups might come and cups might go: cyclone taylor and the 1909 stanley cup take a road trip (possibly)

Out And About: A threadbare Cyclone Taylor shows off his Vancouver Millionaire colours in 1913.

A birthday today for Fred Taylor, who was born (probably; there’s some blurriness to the record) on a Monday of this date in 1884 in Tara, over towards Owen Sound, in southwestern Ontario. Taylor grew up a little to the south, in Listowel, northwest of Kitchener, and that’s where he honed his hockey. Cyclone he came to called, in his heyday, which was back in the first few decades of the 20th century, when Taylor was far and away one of the fastest and most skilled players to don skates and step out on the ice and, thereby, one of the game’s best-paid practitioners. Playing at rover and cover-point (defence), he starred in the IHL for Portage Lakes and for the NHA’s Renfrew Creamery Kings before finding a home, for nine seasons, with the Vancouver Millionaires of the PCHA. Five times he led the league in scoring on the west coast, and in 1915 he helped the Millionaires beat the Ottawa Senators to win the Stanley Cup. It was Taylor’s second championship: he’d been with the Senators in 1909 when they played in the old ECHA and surpassed Art Ross’ Montreal Wanderers to take the Cup.

Taylor hung up his skates in 1922, at the age of 38. He was elected to the Hall of hockey Fame in 1947. Cyclone Taylor was 94 when he died in 1979. 

Did Taylor score a goal for Renfrew in 1910 after having skated backwards through some or possibly all of the Ottawa line-up? Many paragraphs have been written on the subject, including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time … but while some reports (including in the Ottawa Citizen at the time) would seem to confirm the feat, Taylor himself told Stan Fischler that it never happened.

Not so well documented is another bit of lore relating to that 1909 championship. Insofar as I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else in the 112 years that have intervened since then, it may even qualify as breaking news. Eric Whitehead’s 1977 biography Cyclone Taylor: A Hockey Legend doesn’t mention it, and nor do any of the authoritative histories of hockey’s most vaunted trophy, but Taylor may well have been the first player to take the Stanley Cup home with him to share with and show off to his kith and kin, a whole eight decades before it became standard practice.

The Stanley Cup’s annual summer tour is a rite of hockey’s post-season, and a charming one at that: each year, Cupkeeper Phil Pritchard escorts the venerable trophy to the hometowns of players, coaches, and staff across the globe so that those who’ve won the Cup can spend a day in its company, sharing the glory around with friends and family, eating from its silvery bowl, maybe feeding their horses

Pandemics permitting, of course: while in 2019, the Cup travelled to eight Canadian provinces, seven U.S. states, as well as Sweden, Finland, and Russia on visits to happy members of the St. Louis Blues, COVID-19 meant that last year’s champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, could only celebrate with the Cup in Florida.  

The Hockey Hall of Fame keeps an online catalogue documenting the Cup’s off-season travels that goes back to 2003, when the New Jersey Devils were champions: that’s here. These summer peregrinations were established as a routine in 1995, says the Hall. (The Devils reigned that year, too.) 

The Cup did some house calls before that, too: in 1989, when the Calgary Flames prevailed, Pritchard himself took the Cup to visit Flames forward Colin Patterson at his home in Rexdale, Ontario. That same summer, the Cup was packed up and shipped — unaccompanied — to Saskatoon, where Calgary defenceman Brad McCrimmon’s dad, Byron, collected it at the airport and took it for a sojourn in McCrimmon’s hometown of Plenty, Saskatchewan. 

Turns out Cyclone Taylor had a like-minded plan a full 80 years earlier. 

In 1909, there was no Stanley Cup final, as such. Having finished atop the standing of the four-team Eastern Canada Hockey Association, Taylor’s Ottawa Senators inherited the Cup from the holders, Montreal’s Wanderers. A challenge did come in from the Winnipeg Shamrocks, and was accepted by Cup trustee William Foran, but by then it was mid-March, too late in the season for the series to be arranged. 

The Senators and Wanderers did take a quick trip to New York in March, to play a two-game exhibition series, but that was on artificial ice. Ottawa prevailed, for anyone keeping score, winning the first game 6-4 and settling in for a tie, 8-8, in the second.

Back in Canada’s capital, the Senators were wined and dined at a banquet at the Russell House Hotel. The Cup, which looked like this in those years —

— had been absent from Ottawa since 1906, when the mighty Ottawa Silver Seven were ending a run of four consecutive championships. The line-up of the new champions featured five future Hall-of-Famers, including goaltender Percy LeSueur and forwards Bruce Stuart and Marty Walsh. 

Reports of the 1909 celebration include an account of the Cup being filled (of course) with champagne and shared around the room. When it reached Taylor, he demurred. “I will drink only after the greatest hockey general in the game has done so,” he said, passing the Cup to Stuart, his captain. 

Trustee Foran spoke a piece, too. He was positively giddy in his praise of the teams in the ECHA, declaring that their brand of hockey was the “greatest, fastest, and cleanest” ever seen anywhere. Ottawa’s team, he felt, further, was “the best team Canada or the world had ever produced. 

He was confident, too, that the Stanley Cup, now in the 16th year of its youth, was here to stay: “Cups might come and cups might go,” paraphrased the Ottawa Journal, “but the Stanley Cup would always remain the true emblem of hockey supremacy.” 

News of Cyclone Taylor’s initiative was carried in another dispatch from the banquet room. His request, which was deemed “unusual” by the correspondent writing about it, was this: Taylor asked “that he be allowed to take the Stanley Cup home to Listowell [sic] when he goes on his Easter holidays, guaranteeing to return it in safe order. Taylor remarked that it was his one ambition to be on a Stanley Cup team, and wished to take the famous mug to his native town so that the Listowell people could have a look at it. His wish may be gratified, providing the trustees do not object.”

Did William Foran give Taylor the go-ahead? That I can’t confirm. The Cup may well have been handed over to his care in April of 1909, and made the journey west to Listowel for a spell. If so, none of the major daily newspapers seem to have registered the event. I haven’t yet consulted local papers to see what they might have to report, but I’ll get to them and report back. Did the Stanley Cup parade down Listowel’s Main Street as Cyclone Taylor’s friends, familiars, and neighbours cheered? Possibly. Was it, anticipating the 1991 scene in Mario Lemieux’s Pittsburgh backyard, sunken to the bottom of the Taylors’ swimming pool? Not likely. Did anyone, including local livestock, feed from the Cup? To be determined. 

In the meantime, if anyone has further intelligence on this, let me know. 

Dialled In: Cyclone Taylor at home, listening to the radio, in his elder years. (Image: William Cunningham, Vancouver Public Library)

quaffing from the stanley cup: would a lot of shared consumption be a problem?

Bottoms Up: Readying the Stanley Cup for action in April of 1949 is Toronto Maple Leafs PR manager Spiff Evans. Steered by coach Hap Day (right) and managing director Conn Smythe (middle), the Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings in four games that year to earn the championship and the right to sip. (Image: City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 3015)

“I’d like to have a dollar for every time the Stanley Cup has been filled with champagne.”

When Frank Calder, the NHL’s first president, said that in 1942, hockey’s most cherished trophy had already been won more than 80 times in its 48 years of history, going back to 1893, when the Montreal Hockey Club laid original claim on the Cup. Calder was in a storytelling frame of mind rather than a profiteering one, regaling reporters with tales of Cup shenanigans, some of them involving Lord Stanley’s chalice being misplaced, or maltreated, some of which may even be true. Calder wasn’t at the time harbouring a reliable quaff-count; his point was presumptive, recognizing that however hallowed a symbol it may be, the Stanley Cup will never escape its original self and purpose as a drinking vessel.

All of which gets us around to the question of the night: can you truly be said to have won the Stanley Cup if you don’t end up merrily slurping sparkling alcohol from its silvery bowl?

Seventy-seven times the Cup, in several incarnations, has been awarded since Calder spoke his piece in 1942. With a lock-out having washed out the 2005 season and Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning made it 78 last when they dispensed with the Dallas Stars in Edmonton to win these perturbed playoffs and receive the Cup from Calder-heir Gary Bettman, putting an end, finally, to the 2019-20 NHL season.

And, yes, champagne (and beer) was decanted into the Cup and duly poured out, into and onto the happy faces of the new champions. Was there ever any doubt that they  would partake, despite what public health officials might advise in, say, a surging  pandemic such as we’re in?

Not really.

No-one needs reminding how unlikely the whole idea of completing the hockey season seemed back in March and April when COVID-19 interrupted everything. Even when the NHL looked north for a bubbled restart at the beginning of August there was no guarantee that the summer’s emergency experiment would work out.

The NHL deserves credit for the fact that it has. Prudent planning, strict procedures, stringent testing, good luck: they’ve all played a part in getting the league to this point. When, back in August, I talked to some NHL high-ups for a New York Times feature I was working on, they were assuming nothing.

“I’m just hopeful we get to that point,” Dr. Winne Meeuwisse, theNHL’s chief medical officer told me when I raised a question about possible protocols involved in the eventual presentation of/sipping from the Cup. “We’re a long way away from that, and we have a lot of work to do to get there.”

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Everybody I spoke with emphasized that health and safety were — and would remain — the top priority.

I asked Dr. Meeuwisse specifically about infectious disease and risk and all the potential for Cup handling, passing around, kissing, and, yes, drinking from.

“Would hoisting the Cup be a problem? No. Would a lot of shared consumption be a problem? It probably would be.”

I asked the NHL’s deputy commissioner, too, Bill Daly.

“That’s a fair question,” he said. Without offering specifics, he suggested that it just might be something that the league would indeed regulate … maybe. The full quote: “For better or for worse, we’re roughly six or seven weeks away from having to deal with that. I think we have some time to figure that out. Quite frankly, I think that’s been a recurring theme in terms of our approach to the pandemic from the start, which is we want to remain nimble. We want to react, or be in a position to proact, where you can, but when as we learn more and new things become evident or apparent to us, we can and have you know proven to this point where we can we can adjust on the fly.”

I talked to Phil Pritchard, too, the Hockey Hall of Fame vice-president and curator who’s better known as the Keeper of Cup. “As we get closer,” he said, “we’ll see what rules and regulations we have to put into effect.”

I get it. Who, exactly, was going to tell Steven Stamkos, or Pat Maroon, that after 65 days sequestered in their Canadian bubbles, far from friends and family and fans, they weren’t allowed to touch their lips to the Cup in all the traditional ways?

Dr. Meeuwisse well understood the challenge. “At that point,” he told me a month ago, “is a player going to care enough about it to alter their behaviour?”

Dr. Andrew Morris was someone else I consulted in August. He wasn’t professionally involved in the NHL’s return to the ice, but he’s a fan and, as an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Sinai Health and University Health Network, an interested observer.

Would the champions bow to best preventive practices and forgo the clutching of the Cup, the kissing, the swigging, maybe just wave to it across the distance in the dressing room?

“I think they’ll say, ‘We’ll live with the risk here,’” Dr. Morris. And that’s true for this disease in general: there are public health issues, and then there are people’s own personal risk assessment issues.”

 

hockeytown, moscow oblast

Home For A Rest: Born in Voskresensk, southeast of Moscow, on a Wednesday of this date in 1972, Slava Kozlov is 48 today. A fleet left winger, he won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s. After the first one, with teammates Igor Larionov and Viacheslav Fetisov, Kozlov was along as the Cup made its first ever visit to Russia. Here he is with trophy in hand on August 19, 1997, when he and his teammates arrived at a rink in his hometown for an afternoon visit. That’s Larionov (also Voskresensk-born) just to Kozlov’s right, chatting to soldiers and fans. Then-Red Wings owner Mike Illitch is on Kozlov’s left, with Fetisov next to him. Cupkeeper Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame stands just back of him, by the van. Me? I was up on the roof the rink with my camera. (Image: Stephen Smith)